culture / March/April 2018 / Walter Proulx

Calling All Bystanders

Written by Walter Proulx

Recently, a group named Calling All Crows came to Arts Riot in Burlington to talk about active bystander training (ABT). For those unfamiliar with ABT, it involves informing all bystanders (so, everyone) on how to identify sexual violence and how to potentially stop it. Instead of other tactics to stop sexual violence by giving a victim a support structure and resources, it calls upon people who witness crimes to step in and diffuse a situation before it escalates to something worse. Although this is not the only way to combat sexual violence, it is the most preferred because it avoids a bad situation entirely rather than trying to help someone who has already been victimized. Naturally, this technique is the most desired by institutions as it costs much less to deal to train people than it does to deal with multiple cases of sexual violence. Also, in the perfect world we would only need ABT.

Most of the time, ABT involves a quick PowerPoint presentation followed by some very uncomfortable talks and awkward eye contact. Instead, Calling All Crows crushed this training with some paper and a couple of women who knew how to talk about sexual violence and harassment. To date, this was the most effective training I have ever seen. It was constructed with some essential parts that should be in most training programs. From identification to diffusion, this program had everything needed. Here is a more in depth look at the program in case you missed the training.


It seems like a simple concept, but often times people don’t realize how much you might witness sexual harassment or experience it. Quite often, it is easier to remember the nice, consensual acts of affection seen in public. Spending a good amount of time going over what other people see helps give you another perspective.

Analysis of Effect

Take a simple situation of an older man making inappropriate comments to a younger girl in a bar. Many researchers and trainers only tend to only focus on the perpetrator, the older man, and the victim, the younger girl. What many don’t realize is how uncomfortable that whole bar feels, how the girl’s family will react, or how the man’s friends might be encouraging the man’s inappropriate behavior. It is very important to recognize how much a community can buckle under a single case of sexual violence. Unfortunately, there is almost no research in how communities are affected by which is why it was heartening to see this training included this topic.

Real Life Examples

Making real life examples is hard. Without having directly experienced any sexual harassment or violence, it can be hard to make a realistic situation that people might encounter. Calling All Crows successfully did this and got people talking about topics that are barely touched by professionals in the field. Sexual violence against men was briefly mentioned, which again is a relief as many trainings don’t acknowledge this as a possibility. Nothing was excluded: family members, best friends, and all of the above were mentioned in these situations. Sexual violence has a tendency to appear with acquaintances, and Calling All Crows fully embraced this possibility.


Oftentimes, ABT mentions one way to diffuse a conflict: directly talk to the perpetrator. Unless the bystander is very confident and comfortable approaching people, this isn’t a very realistic expectation. Additionally, being direct with the perpetrator is not always the best solution. By applying different techniques of being direct, delegating, distracting, or delaying, Calling All Crows showed the group how to more realistically diffuse a situation.

With all of these tools, Calling All Crows made an amazing ABT. They addressed a huge number of topics in a short amount of time effectively, and everyone can benefit from this training.